When Sherman Alexie visited campus last night, he demonstrated the power of comedy as a rhetorical device: he made us laugh so hard we let down our guard, and then he started lobbing in the guilt grenades. It was a beautiful thing to see, but at the same time it felt a little dangerous. We are, after all, in Appalachia, where you wouldn't have to be a gun-toting redneck to take Alexie's comments out of context and get a little hot under the collar.
He urged Christopher Columbus to commit an anatomically impossible act.
He reminded us that the land of the free and home of the brave spent centuries doing its best to stamp out braves.
He pointed out that even if we do not consider ourselves racists, we are nevertheless complicit in the institutional systems that perpetrate racism.
And he criticized Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians mascot.
Alexie lubed us up with laughter so well that the harsh truths just slid right past our defenses, but it was a pretty big crowd and it's possible that some people weren't laughing. Take a little clandestine video, post it to the blogosphere without proper context, and BOOM, we're accused of forcing innocent students to drink the socialist anti-American multicultural Kool-Aid.
And maybe that's a conversation we need to have, but it's much more pleasant when we leave the guns at home and do it with comedy.